I remember seeing The Waterboys on “Later”, singing a song I hadn’t heard before. It was an astonishing performance. As with all the best Waterboys songs, the dynamics heightened the tension and increased the impact. Mike Scott sung and played acoustic guitar and Steve Wickham played fiddle, singing a song which was gentle at first but increased in intensity so much so, that by the end of the song, all members of the six piece band were playing at 100%. The words had something to do with being as mad as the mist and snow and, without being too inappropriate, Mike Scott and Steve Wickham did look a little alien whilst performing. The reason I like live performances is similar to the reason I like live sport: I like to see people do things that I couldn’t do myself. It’s like comparing a holiday in Wiltshire with a holiday in Monument Valley. Wiltshire is very nice but it’s similar to Sussex and I see Sussex every day. Wandering around Monument Valley with Paddy in 2008, I felt like I was on another planet. Watching Tariq Lamptey or Mark Cucurella fly down the wing playing for Brighton and appearing to be superhuman, doesn’t remind me of my glory years playing for Wadhurst Toc H, because I never even dreamed of having the skill they have. Watching The Waterboys on “Later” feels like watching an alien species creating a unique sound. Lucinda Williams said, when discussing her album, “Little Honey”, “you look at the world and it feels like everything is falling apart”. I guess I feel that a great way to forget about the awful reality of the present moment is to project myself out of this crazy world into a parallel universe where the earth is red, people run at 25 mph whilst controlling a ball or make sounds on a fiddle that reach into my soul and invite me on a journey into hitherto unknown areas of experience. And if that sounds pretentious, I am writing about a Waterboys record, so it’s allowed.
“An Appointment With Mr. Yeats” is a collection of 14 songs (more on the various re-releases) with words by W. B. Yeats and music by The Waterboys. This was not the first time that Mike Scott had demonstrated his fascination with one of the greatest Irish poets of all time. “A Stolen Child” from “Fisherman’s Blues” and “Love And Death” from “Dream Harder” also set the great man’s poetry to music. Mike Scott’s fascination with Van Morrison is well documented and “Too Long In Exile” includes a musical version of “Before The World Was Made”. The same words (but a different melody) also appear on “An Appointment With Mr. Yeats”.
Carla Bruni also recorded a version of “Before The World Was Made“, a poem which appears to discuss the connection between pre-natal and post-mortem existence. W. B. Yeats was very much interested in concepts of a soul. He believed in an individual, social, and civilization-wide reincarnation or continuance of the soul. One interpretation of the poem is that it is less a philosophical exploration of mortality and more a dance of seduction and romance. The time “before the world was made” could refer to the time before our birth but it might mean the time before the two lovers met. In 1934, a year after the publication of the poem, W.B. Yeats had a Steinach operation, in which animal glands are inserted into the body in order to increase testosterone production. He was 68 years old and was, at the time, carrying on several romantic affairs with much younger women, including the daughter of Maude Gonne, his first love who had rejected his proposal of marriage three times.
The Waterboys were supplemented by Katie Kim on some of the tracks on this album and she delivers a haunting vocal on “Before The World Was Made”. She is an Irish musician, who has released three albums and occasionally performs with Radie Peat of Lankum.
William Butler Yeats was born in County Dublin in 1865. The family moved to Sligo soon after his birth. Between 1865 and 1880, his family moved to Slough before returning to Dublin. Although raised as a member of the Protestant Ascendancy (which attempted to maintain a Protestant stranglehold on power and influence in Ireland), home rule, the increasing influence of Catholicism and the rise of Charles Stewart Parnell (leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party) all caused W. B. Yeats to explore the nature of Irish identity throughout his work.
W.B. Yeats started writing poetry in 1880 and was heavily influenced by Percy Bysshe Shelley. He subsequently turned to the writings of William Blake, the mythology of Irish folklore as well as exploring astrology, spiritualism, occultism and mysticism. Knowing this and recognising that he had a profound influence on Mike Scott helps to explain a lot of the other worldliness and pretension of The Waterboys. The shows to promote “An Appointment With Mr Yeats” were described by Mike Scott as “psychedelic, intense, kaleidescopic, a mix of rock, folk and faery music”.
Mike Scott said “I love Yeats’ poetry, and I like the flavor of the man, as far as I can perceive it — but I’m not an obsessive. I don’t need to know how many women he had, or what he said to a rival writer, or anything like that. I’m not that interested in the minutiae of his life.“
“Song Of Wandering Aengus” is told from the point of view of an old man who, at some point in his past, had a fantastical experience in which a silver trout fish he had caught and laid on the floor turned into a “glimmering girl” who called him by his name, then vanished; he became infatuated with her, and remains devoted to finding her again.
“The Lake Isle of Innisfree” expresses the speaker’s longing for the peace and tranquility of Innisfree while residing in an urban setting. He can escape the noise of the city and be lulled by the “lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore.” On this small island, he can return to nature by growing beans and having bee hives, by enjoying the “purple glow” of heather at noon, the sounds of birds’ wings, and bees.
“An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” is one of four poems written about Major Robert Gregory, the only son of Lady Gregory, Irish poet, dramatist, and folklorist who was killed during the First World War, while serving as a pilot. W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory corresponded (as Van Morrison sung so memorably in Summertime In England” from “Common One“) and founded the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899 and the Irish National Theatre Society in 1904.
“September 1913” was written midway through his life as a highly reflective poem which is rooted within the turbulent past. Most notably, the poem provides insight into Yeats’ detestation of the middle classes whilst also glorifying figures such as John O’Leary, an irish separatist.
“Politics” was composed during the time of the Spanish Civil War and the pre-war period of the Third Reich. The poem hints at some political situations but focusses on topics more relevant to human interaction.
Mike Scott said “I got a letter from a secondary school teacher saying that she had been using some of the tracks on the album to interest her kids in poetry; apparently, it had been a great success, because she had enclosed with her letter notes from every kid in her class! All the letters said much the same thing — they all wrote that they had studied poetry the year before, and found it really boring … but now they were interested with Yeats given to them in musical form. And they’d say which was their favorite poem. I got back in touch with this teacher. I thought, “Gosh, there’s a good story here. We’ve got Ireland’s national poet, a pop group, a bunch of plucky kids and a creative schoolteacher… this should be on the national news!” So I got in touch with a publicist friend of mine, who arranged for RTE to come down and film us in this classroom. We had a wonderful couple of hours with the kids … playing songs for them, answering their questions about Yeats, and about being a musician and such. It was great fun.“